Having a clean and natural inbound link profile is a problem that practically every business owner faces. We had the chance to talk to the much creative and respected SEO consultant, Benjamin Beck, who shared a number of valuable insights and tactics that work on the link building arena.
Ben is currently preparing a course on Link Harvesting and we got the chance to take a peek at some of the hot topics that he will go over with his future online marketing “students”. Are you growing impatient and do you want to learn more? Just scroll down and get to the interview already!
Nevyana: Rumor has it that you are preparing a course for Link Building – however when looking through your website I had the impression that you are planning to release a book on link harvesting – are the book and the course one and the same thing or you are currently working on several projects at the same time?
Benjamin: Yes, it is the same thing. I started up thinking it should be a book and then I realized that a course could be more of a step-by-step guide that I can update easier if I want to add something or if a new strategy comes out . The course is a more of a long term thing. So yeah, it’s a course in Link Harvesting actually.
Nevyana: You define link harvesting as how “people leverage their current brand, assets, and relations to gain links that they should already have”. Does this mean that a new business could not take advantage of this link building approach? Are the link harvesting strategies reserved to well-established brands and companies only?
Benjamin: Yeah it’s harder for companies when they’re just starting out to go out and harvest links because they usually don’t have assets like a tool or a lot of contents or anything. They usually don’t have infographics, or whitepapers or case studies. They usually haven’t sponsored events – there are a lot of things they probably haven’t done yet that they can go easily and harvest links from. That doesn’t mean that they can’t take what they already have and promote it – which is great and that’s basically what they should be doing. But when you have newer companies it’s usually harder for them to go out and find new opportunities that should be linking to them already.
However, this doesn’t mean that they have to be a humongous brand either – one doesn’t have to be like the Pepsis or the Nikes. Even your local plumbers or other smaller businesses can go out and find a lot of opportunities to get links back to their website.
Nevyana: Is it easy to draft a book on link building in an environment that is so unstable, where good link building practices are shrinking and gradually one by one are being condemned as unnatural, spammy and bad?
Benjamin: The strategies that I am teaching are not really spammy – it’s just good marketing. The best way to avoid link penalty is just to do good marketing. These techniques are mostly to go and find opportunities that you should be getting linked for. For instance your company gets mentioned in a blog post but it’s not being linked to. If they already wrote about us, let’s go and ask them for a link. If somebody is using our logo on their website – let’s have them link to us. These aren’t the traditional spammy tactics where you spin articles over and over and over and then submit them.
With link harvesting there is a limited lifetime – there is only so many links that you could go and harvest. The real point of link harvesting is actually to go out and get the links that you should have and then understand the industry that you are in or the space online so that way you would know – ok, I need to make an infographic, or I need to do this specific strategy – you will know what will work and what won’t work.
It’s not a long-term strategy – link harvesting shouldn’t be the only think you do. It’s a great way to launch a project and to give it a great kickstart, but you need to be doing more after that. This is a great way to help you get there faster and to understand the industry that you are in so that when you make a pitch like “I think we really need to do this”, you can back it up.
What Link Harvesting does is help you get links quickly – links that you should already be having. It helps you understand your industry online, and what you can do next in your strategy without falling on your face. Learning the hard way I am trying to help other people not to make the same mistakes I did.
Nevyana: You have once said that “It’s easy to reverse engineer back links, not so easy with relationships. They are a long term competitor advantage”. In this regard do you think that modern link building should focus more on Public Relations or building online relationships and less on the common SEO tactics.
Benjamin: With link building it comes down to two things. Do you have great content? Whatever it is that you are trying to build links to, ask yourself if it is really high quality. If it is extremely high quality, it’s going to get links. Recently Jon Cooper from Point Blank SEO gave a great example. He pointed out the heartbleed.com case where a new huge worldwide bug got found out that could get access to people’s passwords. This company called Codenomicom put up hardbleed.com to explain how to deal with this bug. The website got over 10,000 links in the last month. They don’t have relationships with all those people, nobody knows who those people are but it is extremely high quality website explaining the bug and how to fix it.
So the first and foremost if you have amazing great content – you’ll get links. The second thing is the relationships. If you have relationships – it’s easier to get that great content in front of a lot of people. I am in the same boat – I’ve got people pitching me personal spammy emails all the time, but if my friend emails and asks me to do something, I am a lot more likely to do it.
Nevyana: You mention Buzzstream as being an inseparable part of your link opportunity search; would you like to share with our readers the key things to remember when using Buzzstream?
Benjamin: I have a couple of blog posts and videos that you readers could go through it step-by-step. The great thing I love about Buzzstream is that it’s basically a huge database for your relationships.
The first thing I like about it is that I can use tags so that I can go back and search if I’ve ever gotten a link from anybody in the mommy blogger space or the education space. I can tag people that I got links from so in the future if I’ve got a piece of content that will go well for say someone in the mommy blogger space then I can filter it and find all the places I got a link from and then go and pitch those relationships. And that’s great if you are working with a team of people. If my coworker has a relationship with somebody, but I don’t, I can look and see it. I could quickly filter those relationships for me or anybody on my team so that I can work with them more easily – because working with somebody for the first time is the hardest thing – once you’ve worked with them and you’ve built that trust it’s just a whole lot easier to make the second pitch, third pitch and you get to know what they are like.
So Buzzstream is great for that but even if you do not have relationships with people and you are just starting out you can use the link prospector where you can actually put in a lot of different search queries and it will go out and find blogs based on those search queries like the top health and fitness blogs. You can go and scrape all these different types of blogs and then you can go through them. You can filter them to see if they have high domain authority or high page rank. So if I have really great infographic or a really great resource for say health and fitness I can set up this alert on this link prospector in buzzstream so once a week it goes out an checks for new blogs that might be a good fit for this resource. If the alert is for a guide for pilates or a six pack or something like that – it will go out and check and find good opportunities to have my six pack guide featured. Then you can template an email add some personalization to it and outreach them. It allows me to quickly find people that would be a good fit and quickly outreach to them without doing much extra work. So I could just keep getting that resource placing over and over again.
Nevyana: How come the same query could create new opportunities in a week or two – why setting an alarm would constantly bring new blogs to our attention?
Benjamin: The search queries that I am doing are very, very specific so they are usually being refreshed – my search query won’t be as simple as “six pack”, it would be like “how to get a six pack 2014” or something like that. Thus the results might get frequently updated. Also I’d be looking for “fitness roundup”, “fitness article of the week” – these are other queries that I’ll be doing. Those are more time sensitive – so they will trigger new results. They would usually be more time sensitive versus what you are saying – a query that does not change very often like “a six pack” or “fitness”.
Nevyana: And you’ve also mentioned that Buzzstream helps you find the contact details of the given bloggers, right?
Benjamin: That’s right Buzzstream is pulling in the metrics of a website like Page Rank and Domain Authority. It will actually pull up the RSS feed of a given blog in the sidebar so I can see what you’ve been blogging about. I can also pull your twitter and see what you’ve been tweeting about. So it makes it very easy: it usually pulls out the contact information so I can select your email – I don’t have to search for it. Then I can get my template, personalize it to make it a better fit for your blog and you personally.
Nevyana: Speaking of blogs, what do you think about guest blogging – the issue is quite controversial and it is no longer considered as a good link building strategy. Do you think that this is true and do you think that one should aim at becoming an authoritative blogger first and then try out the guest blogging approach?
Benjamin: I guess the first part is do you have to be authoritative or not. It definitely helps if you have a resume saying I have blogged on this, this and this blog and they are very authoritative. It gives you some credibility and that definitely helps. But again if you have great content and you go to somebody that has a great website and you are like “Hey I’d like to put this blog on there” or “I’d like to do a guest post for you, here it is – would you like it?” – if it’s really high quality and if it’s extremely well done, even if they don’t know you, they’ll probably post it. So again quality trumps everything else.
But as far as being an effective strategy – absolutely! If it’s done right. The thing is that are getting hit people who are basically link swapping. In the old days people would just swap links with each other to get them ranking well. Now it is just a crappy content that they are switching to help each other rank through different types of services.
Don’t be scared to do guest posts, if it is a very authoritative site like Moz – guest blogging wouldn’t hurt you. I’ve guest blogged for MOZ and Search Engine Journal, I’ve done it for several other sites, but they are really authoritative and the barrier to entry there is really high. It’s very difficult to get published and they have editorial staff that keeps very high standards.
If your only strategy is to guest post and do the short 300 word or 500 word articles and it’s on a bunch of kind of low level sites and you are just using exact match anchor texts several times … well, basically if it looks really spammy, it probably is. Same with everything else: same with widgets, same with infographics – lots of things.
Nevyana: So you are saying that guest blogging is a great practice only if done on high authority sites?
Benjamin: Correct. I hate to say high authority – I guess it depends on what your goal actually is. If your only goal is just to get links out of it – than yeah, go for high authority websites. If your goal is to get referral traffic or to get more sales – guest post places even if they no follow your links. You might not get a ton of link value but you might get a few sales or a few app sign ups or referrals. So it just depends what the goal is.
Nevyana: So one should not refrain from guest posting on blogs where the webmasters have adopted the policy of using the nofollow tag with the external links. This practice could still be rewarding for their business?
Benjamin: It can be – again it depends on what their goal is. I personally don’t look if they nofollow it because I usually do guest blogging or working with bloggers to:
A:Build a relationship and
B: Send referral traffic and try to get them to do something on my site or my client’s site. I want them to go to that site and either sign up for my email newsletter or buy a product or sign up for an app download. That’s the goal of me doing a guest post – it’s not to get the dofollow link, usually. It’s usually for the outreach.
Nevyana: In your link harvesting tactics you’ve mentioned another approach –using the Help a Reporter Out (HARO) platform. How is that a link harvesting tactic when people use HARO to create new content, i.e. people are offering to take part in articles that are not yet written?
Benjamin: Right, HARO – for the people who do not know – is a website called Help a Reporter Out and basically you are pairing up with journalists who are writing an article and they are looking for experts or statistics to include in their article – to give it value and to validate what they are reporting. So, that’s correct – you usually do not have a relationship with them yet. But again you might have these guides and you yourself are an expert, so if you can get covered on Fox News or Yahoo Finance or Huffington Post – just like with the guest posting – to get on a large platform thanks to being an expert, you should definitely do that.
I see it all the time when people come to me. On Mother’s day – there are a lot of florists that are experts and they get these opportunities to talk to people on a particular holiday like this. That’s just a great opportunity for you to build relationships and to build up authority. But it can be overwhelming – when a reporter sends out an email and then get tons of people responding. That’s why I usually set up filters so that I only get the emails in my inbox from HARO when they are on topic that I am looking for. If there are invitations on topics like Marketing or Branding or Search Engines, then they will come to my inbox and the filter will ignore all the other ones. Otherwise your inbox will get filled up extremely quickly.
But yeah – to answer your point – it is not the standard harvesting link tactic – because the article hasn’t been written yet. But it’s finding the opportunity to get covered based on your expertise and on what you’ve already done and the brand that you have already built that makes it a link harvesting strategy.
Nevyana: You have written an article on link building automation. Could you share what the challenges of link building automation could be?
Benjamin: Right, and again I think I’ve made the distinction that the automation part is in finding the opportunities. It’s not whenever somebody defines link building on Twitter like: “I tweet them and I link to my post” or something like that – because I think those kind of spammy tactics, really get people upset. They are not personal and they hurt you more than they help.
So the way I automated it is on finding the opportunities stage. One of the ways is through the Buzzstream link prospector. Once I have an assets or a resource that I think is an extremely high quality I basically set the link prospector up so it finds me opportunities that make sense. For instance this resource will be great for this blogger or this local news paper and so it finds those opportunities for me and I could quickly see if it’s a good opportunity. I use a template email and add a little bit of personalization of why I think it’s good for them in particular and I send it.
It takes a lot of time and effort to find the right people but if you can automate that – to find the right people – so that you do a personalized pitch – it really speeds things up and you get a lot more out of it. This does not apply to a strategy that is being solely automated where, say I did find those good prospects, I used a single template and blast it to everybody. You’re not going to have the same success rate and it can actually hurt your brand or what you are pitching in the long run. That’s why I like to automate trying to find the opportunities, but when it comes to actually connecting with somebody – I try to connect with them personally.
Nevyana: Do you prefer using a personalized email only on certain occasions and a templated email on others?
Benjamin: I always use both. As it comes to the personalization: I always use their name and I say something about what they’ve blogged about recently, and why this should be great for their readers: “I see that you target or talk about this a lot – it will be great for your readers on this blog.” The first paragraph I really try to connect with them and make it very personal but the pitch – what my resource is and what it’s about – that could be the same every time.
My outreach email is a hybrid between the two – I always try to make it personal for them and connect with them at the beginning but then the pitch is usually the same – so that’s where the template comes in and it really helps out.
Nevyana: I’ve stumbled upon your bucket list.
Benjamin: Oh, no.
Nevyana: There was an entry that was really amazing – “riding a real bull”. And I wanted to ask you, because the logo on your website Local Stemede represents a rising bull – do the logo and this riding-a-real-bull experience have something in common or it is just a coincidence?
Benjamin: That’s a great research. I actually haven’t put that together. First off I am not a bull rider by any stretch of the imagination. I lived in a city called Tucson, Arizona, and some friends found out that you could go to those little rodeos that are in the outskirts; you can pay $20 and ride a bull. Which if you go to like those mechanical fake bulls – those were like $20. My friends have already done it and they’ve said how trilling it was, so I went and did it – the best $20 of adrenaline rush you can ever get. I stayed for like 6 and a half seconds which I was like really impressed with and if you watch the video on my site I did not know how to get off – when you first get on the bull you do not realize how high you are, then they open the gate and you realize that you are 6 or 7 feet off the ground on this raging bull. They didn’t tell me how to get off – they just told me to hold on for your life which I did. That was a onetime thing, I haven’t done it since. My whole body was sore, because I was so tense in 7 seconds I felt like I had been in a car wreck.
The name Local Stampede, however, is not related to this experience. I just really loved the idea. I’d see a lot of these local businesses that don’t really know what they are doing online. They need some help and they do those simple things to pick up their website like getting reviews to help them rank and to appear better looking for this stampede- this flood, this traffic and visitors and phone calls. I just thought that this was a really cool name and thus the logo of the stampede. I don’t know I just like the idea of a bull. Like a lion king stampeding!
Nevyana: So to wrap it up let’s clarify for our readers when your course would be available for its first participants?
Benjamin: I am working on that. The next month I’d be working with the beta testers to iron out any problems or any questions or anything that is unclear and then after that I will be baking the big push and release it.
We wish Ben much luck and a lot of eager-to-learn course applicants. It was a real pleasure to have him onboard for this talk and to discuss questions that the majority of online businesses have and try to address in the local stampede of opportunities and challenges.